When Emma Coburn won the steeplechase in the 2017 IAAF World Championships, it came as a surprise to many, including her sister, Gracie. “That field was just so strong. I didn’t mean to underestimate her […] but I really wasn’t seeing against that field, that year, how that could work out”. Looking at her past successes, though – notably holding seven US Championships titles and competing in the 2016 Olympics – it makes sense. And when you look further into who she is as a person and where she came from, it seems inevitable.
Growing up, Emma wasn’t always the all-star track athlete. Living in Crested Butte, a small Colorado ski town of just over 1500 people, there wasn’t enough people to specialize in just one sport. The focus was never on what one individual could accomplish, but what the community could achieve together. That small-town mindset stemmed her humbleness and desire to care for others, a temperament that, as local Joel Vosburg says, doesn’t go unnoticed. “An amazing thing about [Emma] is that even back in the day in high school or through her competitive events, she’s always thinking about other people. She’s not thinking about herself. She wins the race and she turns around and helps people up”. As Emma eventually turned to the track and rose through the levels of competitive running, her affection towards her hometown never faltered. That’s because Crested Butte nurtured her confidence to become competitive on the international stage. The community, and specifically her now husband and coach Joe Bosshard, taught her how to embrace the pain and mental game of running and to stay calm even at the elite level.
In 2017, Emma and Joe decided they needed to give back to the town. “Joe wanted to create an event that […] in ten years from now we can still have and we can still be proud of and still be plugged into the community.” Emma was approached by Joel and Living Journeys, a local organization that financially and emotionally supports cancer patients and their families, to see if she wanted to promote a local half marathon. That discussion, though, ended up creating a new event entirely, the Elk Run 5K. In just two years the race has raised over $50,000 and created huge exposure for the charity. The immediate success of the race shows how extraordinary both Emma and her community are – that in the peak of her career she took the time to organize a charitable event, and with the help of her friends and family it became a major success.
Looking now at how the small town Coloradan won the highest international track race, it’s clear how it came to be. Emma’s humbleness and calming nature, nurtured by her small town, helped her combat the stress from high-level racing and grow the confidence to believe in herself. She always had the talent and ability, but the love from her community is what led her become the elite athlete she is today
Emma at the Lower Loop Trail in Crested Butte, Colorado. Emma partnered in 2016 with Living Journeys, a local organization that provides financial support for cancer patients and their families, to create the Elk Run 5K. Since then the race has raised thousands of dollars and increased awareness for the charity.
Family and friends of Emma during the Elk Run 5K weekend at the Coburn residence. The community of Crested Butte has been a major part of Emma’s personal and athletic growth.
Emma running the Elk Run 5K course. The race starts on Elk Avenue and makes its way to Peanut Lake Road, pictured here, before turning back to the town.
Emma with her father, Bill Coburn. Bill made Emma try the steeplechase when they drove from Crested Butte to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a six-hour drive, for a high school track meet. “We were driving down to Albuquerque to run an 800. That’s two laps[…]I was looking at what there was to do and steeplechase was on the schedule. I thought while we were there we should try that event and we got her signed up. We had no idea how many laps it was, how many barriers”. She won the race.
Emma hugs a local father with his two daughters nearby. As a high schooler Emma was terrified before her cross country and track races. By conquering those fears she has become a role model for young runners.
Dominique Scott-Efurd and Aisha Praught-Leer, also coached by Emma’s husband, Joe Bosshard. The Elk Run 5K provides a healthy prize purse to financially support athletes with their Olympic aspirations.
The Elk Run 5K start and finish line on Elk Avenue. In 2017 the race sold out and raised over $30,000 for Living Journeys.
Elk Run 5K participants and spectators check out vendors, including ROLL Recovery, and mingle near the starting line.
The sun rises over Crested Butte. In the small Colorado ski town of just over 1500 people, the focus is never on what one individual can accomplish, but what the community can achieve together.